Irkutsk is a nice enough place. Locals are friendlier, weather is cooler and it has the feel of a more relaxed / tourist town. I bumped into Zak & Josh (who I met in Moscow) while walking around the city and after a bit more sightseeing, which consisted of an eternal flame (bunsen burner), more cathedrals & statues, and some interesting tradition involving padlocks…
To be honest I didn’t know what to expect on this journey. I had the feeling it could go one way or the other, so got my supplies and jumped on the train… a couple books, charged the DS, some basic food supplies, 6 beers and a bottle of vodka. Bring it on train!
First thing I noticed was the cabin (Kupe class) was much better than the one I had from Budapest to Moscow. All 4 beds in the room could be left down and still leave enough room to sit comfortably – this allowed me to get onto one of the top bunks so I could stay out of peoples way if required.
I started off sharing a cabin with a Russian family (a couple and their grand-daughter) and at first it felt a bit awkward so I tried to stay out of their way so started chatting to a married couple (English & Colombian) who were in the cabin next to mine – It was a relief that someone spoke English and I wouldn’t be completely cut off for the whole trip.
Before long I was collared by the family in my cabin and forced to sit with them… I really didn’t know what to expect but all of a sudden the woman was feeding me and the guy was pouring 8% beer in a cup, turns out this family was very nice!
They got off the next day and were replaced by 2 iffy Russians who didn’t make any attempt to communicate so I ended up playing Uno & Backgammon with the married couple.
The last night involved plenty of beer and sharing my bottle of Vodka with half of the train which in turn got me plenty of drinks in return. It got blury, don’t remember packing my bags and was a bit tipsy when I got off the train and started walking for an hour in a massive storm, falling over in puddles twice, getting pitied by the hostel woman and given plenty of nice coffee in return… welcome to Irkutsk… it’s 5am.
Well Moscow… where to begin? First and foremost lets get this out of the way – Moscow is the most expensive, unfriendly tourist place I have ever been. There isn’t a single tourist information place in the whole city, people generally don’t speak any English and more or less dismiss you when you don’t speak any Russian, all signs are in Cyrillic (including the tourist areas like Red Square & The Kremlin) and add in the fact the visa costs a chunk to get & takes a while to process shows they really don’t care about foreign tourist trade. That being said I had a great time during my week there!
Day on was essentially the tourist stuff which basically consists of Red Square and The Kremlin.
Part of Red Square was a nice park surrounding the Kremlin wall. Grass, trees, fountains (with lots of people playing in them) and cheap draft beer from all the kiosks kicking about. As you head into the main area there are a few things such as the tomb of the forgetton solider, the huge Gum shopping centre (full of things I can’t afford), Lenin’s tomb (which is a bit creepy) and the impressive St Basil’s Cathedral (pictured above).
Inside The Kremin, which was nice a cheap to get into due to my dodgy student card, are plenty more cathedrals, the worlds biggest bell (which has never been rung) and the worlds biggest cannon (which has never been fired) and thats about it so I found somewhere to nap for the afternoon – Sleep in Russia’s seat of power…. check!
As of what I did for the rest of my time in Moscow, well you can probably guess…. I was sampling its night life!
Every night in Moscow involved not getting to bed until the sun had risen. The first night I met up with two lovely half English/Russian girls (Maria & Katya) one of which I was in contact with a while ago as she’s going a similar trip to mine. Dragging alone an Irish guy from the hostel (Danny) we went to a couple local places and ended up in Propaganda. Now this place is mentioned in every tour book/guide/website etc and is basically one of those places that is really crappy but at the same time awesomely brilliant.
Russian guys in their silk shirts doing their awesome sway dance, Russian girls who come and their ass on you as your swaying but god forbid trying to touch them… we have come to the conclusion you are only allowed to touch them with your penis… interesting. Anyway I can’t really get across how good & bad this place was, you just have to sample it yourselves (which I did on several occasions).
After the night out with the girls the next 4 nights were spent with my fellow backpackers. 2 Danish guys (Jeppe & Mads), 2 English (Josh & Zak), a Polish (Magic) and an Ozzie (Tom) spent our time in Propaganda invading tables of Russia girls and taking part in the mono-directional sway on the dance floor!
On a random side note I always believed Russia would a cold (or at least cooler than central Europe) country but nooooooooo the place was 36-42C all the god damn time. No-where has fans nevermind air conditioning and by the end of the week I was extremely bored of swearing 24/7.
Bring on Siberia after this next 5178km train ride!
I was writing notes at random intervals on the train so this is sort of broken up.
Well its time for my first long (36 hour) train journey from Budapest to Moscow via the Ukraine – First impressions as the train rolls into the station “Wow thats so Russian!” and thats about all I can do to explain it 😛
The cabin is of course small (3 berth, cheapest) but I do like the little nooks and crannys that hide things (like sink under table, storage under seats, fridge under stool etc).